‘Flow My Tears’ Leaves Me Wanting More P.K. Dick

Let’s get the obvious out of the way right off the bat — I don’t typically read science fiction. In fact, I can probably count the number of science fiction books I’ve read on one hand. Truth be told, it has less to do with not liking science fiction and more to do with the fact that I’m admittedly a bit of a literature snob and I don’t usually read any “genre” fiction including romance, mystery, fantasy, etc. I’m sure I’m missing out on some great reads.

I’m trying to be more open-minded though. I started a book club last year and we take turns picking a book each month and I have enjoyed trying new things. I scoffed at We Are Legion (We are Bob) and I ended up really enjoying it. I think maybe I’ve had a blind spot for science fiction because of what I think it is, when in reality science fiction can be a lot of things. I’ve always equated science fiction with stories about alien visits and robot wars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not my thing.

But recently I’ve been watching some really great television that fits into the science fiction category and I’ve realized that I most definitely like stories of dystopia and alternate universes. Black Mirror may be the best show on television. I have thoroughly enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, 12 Monkeys, and the new Star Trek Discovery series. And most of all, I love The Man in the High Castle, which brings us back to Philip K. Dick.

My son loves science fiction, and given I could hardly get him to pick up a book when he was growing up I have been encouraged by his newfound love of reading. He adores Philip K. Dick and he’s been bugging me to drop my pretentiousness and give him a try. He suggested Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said as a good place to start and I picked it up a few days ago and flew right through it.

I agreed that Philip K. Dick was a good entrance point to science fiction for me because he specializes in dystopia and he has been occasionally compared to one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. Having finally read a P.K. Dick novel I agree the comparisons are fair. They are both nuts!

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is the story of Jason Taverner, a world famous television star and singer who wakes up one morning in a strange place and he quickly discovers that he is no longer famous and in fact he lacks any identification at all. This is a huge issue in the not-too-distant future (1988) of this novel in that the world has become a police state where not having identification can lead to a permanent trip to a forced labor camp. As Taverner makes his way in his new reality as a regular person he quickly realizes just how privileged he was in his previous life.

First, a few cons from my perspective. P.K. Dick didn’t win any awards for literature, primarily because his writing style is sophomoric. He’s no literary lion, but I’m sure that didn’t bother him much nor does it concern his fans. This particular book, and I have no other P.K. Dick novels to compare it to yet, does not leave much to the reader to figure out. I think great literature shows but doesn’t tell — Dick’s style (at least in this book) is to explain what’s going on through the narrator’s inner voice. I was disappointed by how he explains everything as it leaves very little to the reader’s imagination. Finally, I was quite disappointed in the ending of the novel. I won’t give it away, but I’ll just say Dick wraps everything up in a bow.

But my complaints about the novel are quite minor. In fact, I really loved the story despite not liking the way it ended. Dick gives away the mechanism by which Taverner found himself in a parallel universe and I would have preferred he leave that to the imagination and the readers conjecture. Yet, I liked what being in that parallel universe meant for Taverner and the reader. The novel revolves around the themes of fame, identity, surveillance, genetic enhancement, and altered states to name a few. These are topics worth exploring, whether through a science fiction novel or a philosophy class.

The novel was published in 1974 and the issues it is about are even more relevant today given where we are as a species and a society. One of the things that makes P.K. Dick so special is how prescient he was in writing about these issues in the early 70s. One gets the feeling maybe he discovered some portal to the future just as the Nazi’s did in The Man in the High Castle. I know what you’re thinking — his “portal” was LSD! Perhaps, but regardless of how he got to his theories of the future it’s remarkable.

I liked Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, but I didn’t love it. The good news is, P.K. Dick was a prolific writer so there’s so much more to discover. Now that my mind has expanded, I suspect I’ll be adding a few of those novels to my to-read list. I’ve been told Ubik is pretty mind-blowing, and Valis gets great reviews. I’ll probably give Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a try even though I know the story having seen Blade Runner a bunch of times. If you are a Philip K. Dick fan, I’d welcome your suggestions.

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Film Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Dud

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Directed by Tomas Alfredson

Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the John le CarrĂ© novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been on my IMDB Watch List for close to seven years, but for whatever reason I never clicked “buy” on Google Play Movies or recorded it off HBO. One reason this Watch List challenge is so interesting to me is because it will force me to finally watch some films that have been languishing in my “get around to it” file. And while I’m not a reader of John le CarrĂ© novels, this film appealed to me because I love a good international spy film and the cast of this adaptation is remarkable.

The film stars Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and even a young Tom Hardy. That’s a lot of star power. Alas, it wasn’t enough to restart my heart after I nearly fell asleep from boredom after about 20 minutes. I mean, usually I’ll give a film a half hour or so before giving up, but life is too short to waste 30 minutes let alone two hours plus. My wife didn’t protest at all when I hit the stop button on the remote. 20 minutes might be a record for me in terms of giving up on a film.

I know this film has an 85/100 metacritic score, a 7.1 out of 10 on IMDB, and was nominated for three Oscars including a Best Actor nod for Gary Oldman (who finally did win an Oscar recently for Darkest Hour which I still haven’t seen). But boring is boring. Hell, I’ve enjoyed the first two episodes of Killing Eve way more and it’s basically the same plot.

Next Up on the Watch List: Margin Call

Film Review: No Redeeming Value in McQueen’s ‘Shame’

You know that feeling you get when you watch a film and as it comes to a close you think to yourself what the hell did I just watch? That’s how I felt about Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame. Honestly, it’s rare for me to dislike a film as much as I disliked Shame.

Michael Fassbender in Shame (2011)

Shame tells the story of Brandon, played by McQueen regular Michael Fassbender, who on the surface appears to be a normal guy but who harbors a secret life of sexual addiction. He spends his nights hooking up with strange women, or hiring prostitutes to fulfill his desires. When he’s not having random sex, he watches porn and jerks off. Even at work. The guy has no life outside of his perverted hobby.

Enter his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who turns up unexpectedly needing a place to stay throwing a wrench into Brandon’s habit. Sissy has her own issues, not the least of which is that she is psychotic…and…well…the tension builds until something’s got to give.

I’m the furthest thing from a prude, so it wasn’t the NC-17 rating that caused me to dislike this film. Nor was it the underlying sexual tension between brother and sister, or the porn, or the gratuitous full frontal nudity on display from both Fassbender and Mulligan. It was the complete and utter lack of story beyond the sex. The film was simply about a guy who has a problem with sex and his nutty sister moving in to take him off his game. Not much happens and nothing is resolved. I have no idea what McQueen was trying to say.

I added this film to my Watch List for several reasons, including the fact that I adore Carey Mulligan as an actress and Fassbender is always intense. But mostly I added it because McQueen is now considered an elite filmmaker having given the world multi-Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave. I even enjoyed last year’s McQueen drama Widows. But Shame is just bad. I can think of many much better films about sexual dysfunction and taboos. David O. Russell’s Spanking The Monkey comes to mind. Or Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Sex, Lies, and Videotape. These films are art. Shame doesn’t compare.

Next up on the Watch List project: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy